Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Recently I started working with a technology firm who 5 years ago was at the top of their game, but is now struggling. They got beaten up in the market and haven't been able to regain their footing. To their credit, they realize that market forces aren't the only thing that has led to their trouble. As one VP put it, "I think we started to lose touch with each other and clients a number of years ago. Internally we had competing agendas and externally we weren't innovating. The net effect has been a growing mediocrity."

Consider this:

That VP had a great insight. Mediocrity rarely starts with bad intentions. It usually creeps in on its own when you're not looking. Before you know it, high performance becomes low performance and everyone/everything it touches gets infected. While organizations lay the groundwork for mediocrity in many ways, in my experience they always fall under the same five themes: (1) Lack of a shared & compelling mission/vision (2) Lack of alignment on clear objectives (3) Lack of holding feet to the fire (accountability) (4) Lack of support/tolerance for experimentation & failure (5) Lack of open communication. Make no mistake, doing these 5 things is generally a pain in the a**. That's why so few people/organizations do them - and why so many are mediocre.

Try this:

  1. Ask yourself/your team on a scale of 1-5 how you're doing on the five dimensions above (1-it's completely missing, 5-it's really strong).
  2. Compare answers with others and discuss the results.
  3. Where there's widespread agreement that something's missing, why hasn't it been addressed?
  4. Where there's widespread agreement that something is strong, how will you ensure it stays that way?
  5. Where there's disagreement, why does it exist?
  6. Always remember that while mediocrity often happens by mistake, greatness never does.

"If we live in a culture of mediocrity, there is a real risk we will ease back to our lowest performance. Only a small percentage of us are strong enough to sustain excellent performance in an environment of mediocrity."
— Erie Chapman, nationally renowned hospital/healthcare executive

Doug Sundheim is an organizational consultant, author, & speaker. To learn more about his services visit him online at